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Free Study Guide-The Jungle by Upton Sinclair-Free Book Summary Notes
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CHAPTER 15

Summary

Ona is suffering a series of nervous fits and looks like a hunted animal. As Christmas approaches, the women work fifteen to sixteen hours a day. One evening, there is a snowstorm and Ona does not return home. The next morning, when she arrives at work, she finds Jurgis waiting for her. A nervous, sobbing Ona explains she has spent the night with her friend Jadvyga, as the snow had disrupted the streetcar service.

Three days before the Christmas holidays, Ona once again fails to return home. In the morning Jurgis goes to Jadvyga's house looking for his wife. He learns that Ona has never stayed at Jadvyga's place. Jurgis goes to Ona's factory to make inquiries from her forelady but finds that the forelady has not arrived because the cars from downtown are disrupted. Walking back home, Jurgis spots Ona on the streetcar. He shadows her all the way home. Jurgis confronts Ona with his knowledge of her lie about Jadvyga. She breaks down, sobbing and laughing hysterically and begs Jurgis to have faith in her.

An adamant and uncompromising Jurgis insists on the truth. Ona then whispers that she has been forced to have sexual relations with a factory boss called Connor, at the forelady's house downtown. Ona explains how Connor threatened to destroy the entire family unless she gave in to his demands and finally raped her one night two months ago at the factory after the other workers had left. She was then forced to visit the forelady's downtown house regularly. Ona also tells Jurgis that Connor has tired of her because she is pregnant and "ugly" and will now probably leave her alone.

Half-crazed with rage, Jurgis runs to Ona's factory and attacks Connor, smashing his head against the floor and biting him like an animal. Half a dozen men overpower Jurgis and drag him to the company police station to await the patrol wagon.

Notes

A heavy snowfall is all it takes for Ona's well-kept secret to be exposed. Even before speaking to Ona, Jurgis already suspects she has been hiding something. The crucial portion of this chapter is the confrontation between Jurgis and Ona, which is not treated as a summary narrative but a dramatic scene.


Jurgis is so enraged, he almost chokes Ona's story out of her. Though externally sane, Jurgis has lost his capacity to think. Ona, on the other hand though driven half-mad with fear and behaving hysterically, is much saner than Jurgis. She has already predicted the fate of the family even as she narrates her horrendous tale -- "You will kill him -- and we shall die."

Ona had as much choice in submitting to Connor as Jurgis did in going to work at the fertilizer plant. It was, as she says, the family's "only chance" to survive. Yet Jurgis, who is enraged at the thought of Ona's "adultery," is incapable of understanding this. Far from sympathizing with his wife, Jurgis sees only his own rage and the need for revenge. He is unable to understand Ona's misery and is in fact absolutely cruel to her. Reinforcing the jungle theme, Jurgis turns into an animal when he attacks Connor. He corners his prey and leaps at him, going for his throat, and then tears into his cheek with his teeth, covering himself with blood and flesh. His act satisfies his desire for revenge, but it is clear that Ona's silent suffering is far more brave and heroic.

The scene between Ona and Jurgis is rendered through dialogue, in "real time" rather than summary narration, as are many of the events in the novel. This dramatic technique imparts motion, drama, action and emotion to this crucial portion of the story.

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